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CHAPTER XCVIIHow the Arrangements of Providence follow a Plan

GOD by His providence directs all things to the end of the divine goodness, not that anything accrues as an addition to His goodness by the things that He makes, but His aim is the impression of the likeness of His goodness so far as possible on creation. But inasmuch as every created substance must fall short of the perfection of the divine goodness, it was needful to have diversity in things for the more perfect communication of the divine goodness, that what cannot perfectly be represented by one created exemplar, might be represented by divers such exemplars in divers ways in a more perfect manner. Thus man multiplies his words to express by divers expressions the conception of his mind, which cannot all be put in one word.694694Thus creatlon is a kind of divine language, ‘vocal to them that understand.’ There is a message of God to man in nature, a message unconsidered by those theologians, who will not attend to physics; and neglected by those physicists, who will hear of no theology. And herein we may consider the excellence of the divine perfection shown in this, that the perfect goodness which is in God united and simple, cannot be in creatures except according to diversity of modes and in many subjects. Things are different by having different forms, whence they take their species. Thus then the end of creation furnishes a reason for the diversity of forms in things.

From the diversity of forms follows a difference of activities, and further a diversity of agents and patients, properties and accidents.


Evidently then it is not without reason that divine providence distributes to creatures different accidents and actions and impressions and allocations. Hence it is said: The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth, hath established the heavens in prudence. By his wisdom the depths have broken out, and the clouds grow thick with dew (Prov. iii, 19, 20).

As it is necessary for one wishing to build a house to look out for timber, but his looking out for pitch-pine (ligna abietina) depends on his mere will, not on his plan of building a house; so it is necessary for God to love His own goodness, but it does not thence necessarily follow that He should wish to have that goodness represented by creatures, since the divine goodness is perfect without that. Hence the bringing of creatures into being depends on the mere will of God, although it is done in consideration of the divine goodness. Supposing however that God wishes to communicate His goodness by way of similitude as far as possible, it logically follows thence that there should be creatures of different sorts: but it does not follow of necessity that creatures should be of this or that grade of perfection, or exist in this or that number. But supposing that it is in the divine will to wish this number in creation, and this grade of perfection in each creature, it thence follows logically that creation be in such and such form, and such and such matter; and so of further consequences. Manifestly then providence disposes of things according to a certain plan, and yet this plan presupposes the divine will.

What has been said shuts out two errors, the error of those who believe that all things follow mere will without reason, which is the error of sundry Doctors of the Mohammedan law, as Rabbi Moses says; according to whose teaching, the only difference between fire warming and fire freezing is God’s so willing the former alternative;695695This error represents an extreme form of Nominalism. These two opposite erroneous tendencies must often strike the careful reader of philosophy and theology. Catholic thinkers, abhorring the Charybdis of the latter error, sometimes run perilously near to the Scylla of the former. I mean, they are apt to refer too much to the arbitrary will of God, and too little to the ‘nature of things.’ and again the error is shut out of those who say that the order of causes springs from divine providence by way of necessity.

There are certain words of Holy Scripture which appear to put down all things to the mere will of God. Their meaning is not to take away all rational character from the dispensations of Providence, but to show that the will of God is the first principle of all things. Such texts are: All things, whatsoever he hath willed, the Lord hath done (Ps. cxxxiv, 6:) Who can say to him, Why doth thou so? (Job ix, 12:) Who resisteth his will? (Rom. ix, 19.) And Augustine ( De Trin. III:) “Nothing but the will of God is the prime cause of health and sickness, of rewards and punishments, of graces and recompenses.”

Thus in answer to the question, Why? asked of any natural effect, we can render a reason from some proximate cause, yet so that we reduce all things to the prime cause. Thus if it is asked why wood gets hot in presence of fire, it is answered [etc., etc., in terms of Aristotelian physics], and so on till we come to the will of God [who willed to create matter and energy, such as we know them, from the beginning]. Hence whoever answers the question, why the wood got hot, Because God has willed it so, answers appropriately, if he intends to carry back the question to the prime cause; but inappropriately, if he intends to exclude all other causes.696696   If asked, ‘Why does the train start at 6.30?’ I should answer, ‘Because the traffic manager has so arranged it.’ He might have taken the train off, or put it at another hour, or, with the concurrence of the Directors, have suspended traffic altogether. The Time Tables represent the Manager’s will: yet by no means his arbitrary will. A Time Table drawn up at hap-hazard would result in a block of the whole line: it would not work. The Time Tables consequently are drawn up with much care and forethought for the natures of trains and the exigencies of traffic. The Manager controls actualities, but not possibilities and conveniences. He must make his actual appointments tally with what he finds possible and convenient.
   In like manner all actuality in creatures depends on the mere will of God. And God need not will to create anything at all. He might have acquiesced in His own existence, with nothing but Himself alone in any way existing. So says St Thomas, and so the Catholic Church, in opposition to the determinist idealism of Hegel, who makes the universe and its on-goings consist of the irreversible thoughts and thought-processes of Deity. On the other hand God’s power of creating is not an arbitrary power to create anything and everything that a foolish fancy may call up. He cannot give reality to intrinsic absurdities. He cannot, we may venture to think, create a race of mortal men without stomachs, or animals whose natural food should be stones, or a circle having the properties of a cycloid, or a politician licensed to lie. If He creates, He must create according to the eternal exemplars, the natures of things, as He views them in order of possibility in Himself. These eternal exemplars, or ‘intelligible essences’ as the schoolmen call them, represent whatever of truth there was in Plato’s Ideas. They are founded upon the divine nature, as imitable outside of God: they are discerned in the divine intellect: they do not depend, formally speaking, on the divine will. God’s will and decree does not make and unmake possibilities. These intelligibilia, on the lines of which creation must take place, if creation there is to be at all, are treated of in B. I, Chapp. XLIX–LIV. They were ignored by the ultra-Nominalists, who took all meaning out of the phrase ‘the nature of things,’ and, like those ‘doctors of the Mohammedan law’ whom St Thomas mentions, ascribed all events without distinction to the arbitrary will of the Creator.

   With these archetypal Ideas, according to which creation is laid out, and athwart of which it cannot run, we are very imperfectly acquainted. Consequently our predication cannot travel far, when we undertake to pronounce what things are intrinsically possible and what impossible, what things absolutely God could do, and what things He absolutely could not. More things probably are intrinsically impossible than we are aware of. Among the meshes of this necessary system of the nature of things (a necessity founded upon the divine nature itself) the divine will ranges free, electing to actualise this possibility in creation, and to leave that unactualised.

   From this chapter of St Thomas I have been constrained to excise much obsolete physics. To examine the plan of creation, in an age when men knew nothing of physical nature, microscopic and telescopic, molecular and sidereal, beyond what their unassisted senses could detect, and knew that little ill, — was a laudable effort, but could lead to no more than provisional results. A modern Aquinas, dwelling, as St Thomas loved to dwell, on the variety of creation and the differences of things, cannot but feel himself in face of the question, how all these differences arose; whether they were explicit in the first creation, or whether, out of a creation originally homogeneous, things came to be differentiated by a primitive plastic power, called Evolution, which has turned out an oak, or a sycamore, to be head and representative of one line of development, and a lion, or an eagle, of another. And, if he chooses Evolution, he will have to consider the part of God’s providence therein.

   This chapter should be read in the light of the teleological Psalm ciii, and of St Thomas’s own declaration of his purpose in B. II, Chap. IV. In the untranslated portion occurs this curious aphorism: “The first thing aimed at in creatures is their multiplication (prima ratio in creaturis est eorum numerositas), and to the gaining and securing of this end all things else seem to be subordinate.”

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